Skip to main content

2 Top Lakes For Fall Trout

2 Top Lakes For Fall Trout

For autumn action, Washington's Fish Lake and Oregon's East Lake are at the top of any serious trout-angler's list. (September 2008)

September is when savvy flatland trout anglers check the thermometer, calculate the temperature differential for higher elevations and lick their lips at the prospect of lake waters cooling down after the summer heat.

Don't let the quiet surface fool you. Fish Lake is full of voracious rainbow and brown trout.
Photo by Dave Graybill.

September marks the resumption of some great Northwest lake fishing. Two top lakes that stand out among the many offerings are Washington's Fish Lake and Oregon's East Lake.

Fish Lake, the smaller cousin to Lake Wenatchee, lies on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, nestled in the forested hills of the Wenatchee National Forest.

Only 20 minutes from Leavenworth or less than three hours from almost anyplace on the west side of the Washington, this lake is as close to a sure thing as any water can be.

At just below 2,000 feet elevation, Fish Lake boasts a year-round fishery for yellow perch, German brown trout and some really big rainbow trout.

Even though winter gets cold enough for the 500-acre lake to support ice-fishing, it also holds some decent-sized largemouth bass. A public boat launch site was built in 2006. Or for a small fee, boaters can launch at The Cove Resort, a private facility.


For anglers without a boat, this resort offers two alternatives: boat rentals or dock fishing. But you don't need a boat in order to catch the big fish that swim here.

Every year, anglers catch some of the biggest 'bows from the dock. The dock is also a good place to fish when the wind makes trolling or still-fishing out of the question.

The fishing is so good that most anglers spend more than one day on the water. The resort offers overnight accommodations. Lake Wenatchee State Park, just a few miles away, has tent and RV camping sites.

For anglers whose idea of roughing it is motel without room service, Leavenworth offers motels, restaurants and more.

Art Viola, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Region 2 fish biologist, manages Fish Lake. He said that it's a "prolific producer" that his department can stock at a higher rate than others.

The 2008 stocking plan calls for 92,000 catchable-size rainbows, another 203,000 rainbow fry and more than 24,000 brown trout fry, spread out from May to September. The new planters, plus the holdover fish from previous years, will provide plenty of angling opportunities.

The lake is elliptical in shape and features a gently sloping east end. On the north and south sides, it has steep dropoffs and on the west end, a more modest slope.

There are two humps. One lies about midlake toward the south shore, and the other in an obvious cove on the southwest end where the depth changes fairly dramatically. Humps and holes always attract fish, and these two are no exception.

Although managed for years as a put-and-take lake, it still delivers big fish, both rainbow and brown trout.

Scott West, the owner of The Cove Resort, spices up the fishing by buying and planting as many monster rainbows as the WDFW will allow.

These trout begin their Fish Lake days at 5 pounds and grow quickly.

If the prospect of putting a 10-pound rainbow in the boat doesn't get your heart racing, then will a nice big brown trout rev up your motor?

Viola fishes the lake regularly. His experience tells him that its brown trout are harder to catch than the rainbows.

You have to target brown trout to catch them. And fall is a good time to do that, he said.

In fact, since night-fishing is legal in Washington, he favors trolling a Rapala well behind his boat. Viola uses a no-stretch line, like FireLine, then adds a 10-foot-long mono leader.

Trout from 10 to 16 inches are the norm on East Lake in Oregon as well as Fish Lake in Washington. Here, author David Paul Williams shows a quality East Lake 'bow.
Photo by Michael Williams.

This is not a "fill a bucket with lots of fish" method. You may catch only one or two browns, but each one will be in the 5- to 8-pound class.

Sure beats watching golf on television back in the motel!

Rainbows provide steady action for anglers. In September, much of the catch will be the tasty-sized rainbows that were planted in the spring, plus some larger holdover fish.

Boaters troll Wedding Ring spinners or a local favorite called the High Lake Special, which you can buy at The Cove Resort store.

West likes the High Lake Special because it emits more fish-attracting vibrations than a Wedding Ring. To make the rig irresistible, he suggests adding a chunk of worm.

Lure color seems to make a difference in the catch rate. On bright days, West thinks bright lures work best. In the evening or early morning when the sun is off the water, or on those rare overcast days, he'll put on an orange or pink lure.

Flyfishers have discovered Fish Lake and its large rainbow and brown trout. There's something almost primal about hooking, playing and landing a big hooked-nosed brown trout while fishing at water level in a float tube.

Fish Lake is a great place to match angling wits and fly-casting skills with those hard-to-catch browns. You might cast a perch fry streamer pattern all day long in search of that one tug that wipes away the soreness in your casting arm and signals the start of the battle.

Many flyfishers launch their float tubes and pontoon boats from shore, then work the north, south or west shores, using a full-sink line.

Flyfishers have discovered Washington's Fish Lake and its large rainbow a

nd brown trout.


If you fish from a floating device at night when powerboats are on the water, wear a personal floatation device and show a light.

In addition to baitfish patterns, the usual assortment of Woolly Buggers in black, brown and olive all catch fish.

The lake grows chironomids, which trout of all sizes eat all year long. The key to chironomid fishing is finding the depth where the fish are feeding, which depth can vary from 25 feet to just a few inches below the surface.

Sometimes the fish will even take adult chironomids off the surface. Make sure to carry a few size 14 and 16 black dry flies as well. According to West, when the fish are high in the water column, flyfishers catch tons of trout on attractor patterns.

Yellow perch are the best-tasting species that comes from Fish Lake. However, Viola said the perch population seems to be at a lower level than in other lakes. He said that big fish probably key in on the perch for forage. Despite that, perch still show up in many a day's bag.

East Lake sits high in Oregon's Newberry National Volcanic Monument caldera at 6,400 feet. Covered with ice and snow until mid-May, this 1,050-acre lake is nothing short of a fish factory.

Newberry Caldera was formed 500,000 years ago when Newberry Mountain collapsed, leaving a crater 5 miles wide. Subsequent volcanic eruptions built a cinder cone that now separates East and Paulina lakes. Although it's as much as 220 feet deep, roughly half of East Lake is shallows and luxuriant weedbeds.

Many underwater hot springs help produce tons of aquatic insects, which tons of trout feast on.

And big trout they are! The lake-record brown trout hangs on the wall at East Lake Resort café. The famous fish weighed a phenomenal 22 1/2 pounds. In 1951, a net-caught brown weighed in at a chinook-salmon-sized 30 pounds. Brown trout, introduced to the lake in 1935, typically make up about 25 percent of the catch. But that percentage increases in the fall, as the browns adopt their pre-spawn attitude and move into the shallows.

Ted Wise, Assistant District Fisheries Biologist, manages the lake. He has found brown trout measuring longer than 30 inches. Of course, not every brown gets that big, but Wise said there's a strong population base in the 16- to 20-inch range.

Rainbow trout were first planted in 1912, even before there was a road to the lake. First the fish were taken to Paulina Lake, floated across Paulina, carried over the ridge separating the two lakes, then set free in East Lake.

Rainbows have finned through the lake ever since.

In 1993, kokanee, those land-locked sockeye salmon, were added to the mix and provide a tasty table fish, topping out at 20 inches. In the summer, these fish run deep. But the cooling water of autumn directs them towards the shallows.

They don't have much success because there is no inlet creek to bring well-oxygenated water to their eggs. But all is not lost. The spawning kokanee bring the browns into the shallows where they feed on the loose eggs.

Yet another species of salmon can be found in East Lake. Atlantic salmon were introduced into East Lake in an attempt to knock down the tui chub population.

According to Wise, the Atlantics haven't really performed their intended role but they are great fun to catch. They're known for their fighting ability and spectacular leaps.

The mix of fish and planting regimen has worked well. The lake gets an initial plant of catchable rainbow at ice-off, then additional plants every few weeks during the season. The lake also gets stocked with 30,000 3- to 4-inch rainbows and 10,000 browns that run six to the pound.

Wise doesn't expect there to be any radical changes to the management plan any time soon. But one management challenge is trying to keep the tui chub population in check.

The brown trout just can't eat them fast enough. Chubs eat the same zooplankton that feed the small game fish. That fight for food restricts the ability of the game fish to grow.

One option being explored is establishing a program to trap and remove the chubs when they stage for spawning. But the logistics are daunting of creating a successful program on a lake the size of East.

Despite the overpopulation of tui chubs, the king of East Lake is clearly the big brown trout.

Rick Arnold, of Trophy Trout Guides, loves to fish for East Lake's big brown trout because anglers "always have a shot at big fish."

Arnold's success is well known. David Jones, owner of the East Lake Resort, said whenever Arnold's on the lake, he always catches several 5- to 10-pound brown trout. And he does it without downriggers, sideplaners, gobs of lead or gang trolls getting between the fight and the fish.

A combination of factors makes September a great time to target these fish:

  • The shorter daylight hours mean less radiant heating, so the water temperature starts to drop.

  • Fewer hours of sun also means the weeds start to die. As the weeds thin, the forage fish that feed in them -- and rely on the weeds for hiding places as protection from predators -- become more exposed.

    "There are lots of shelves on the lake, and the browns hunker down at the bottom of the shelves," said Wise.

    "And when the evening comes on, they move up the shelves into the shallows."

    It's almost as if Mother Nature rang the dinner bell. All the browns come a-running to the shallows to feed on most anything smaller than them.

    The lake has a huge forage base of tui chubs, some of which get up to 8 inches long, though 4 to 6 inches is more common. Browns eat the chubs as well as similar-sized kokanee and rainbows.

    For catching the browns, Arnold's method of choice is to match the hatch with hard-bodied plugs. His three favorites are AC Plug's Skinny, Mag Shad and Minnow. Color combinations of black-silver, black-gold and rainbow mirror the colors of the brown trout's favorite foods.

    "The browns are very opportunistic," said Wise. "They focus on whatever forage fish is abundant and available."

    Since the browns have now moved into the shallows, that's where Arnold heads. He trolls his plugs through the shallows using much the same tactics that Art Viola uses on Fish Lake -- that is, a long line and no weight.

    At his marina, David Jones sees a lot

    of fish brought in by anglers. Based on conversations with those successful anglers and his own fishing time, he seconds Arnold's choice to fish the shallows with hard plugs.

    East Lake sits high in Oregon's Newberry National Volcanic Monument caldera. This 1,050-acre lake is nothing short of a fish factory.

    Jones said the best trolling method is to fish the plugs so that they run almost on top of the water, not more than 3 feet deep. The browns cruise the shallows looking for forage fish, and the shallow-running plugs are excellent imitations of the food the browns are seeking.

    The lake's weedbeds and shallows also draw flyfishers who come to fish the ever-present Callibaetis hatch.

    When the ice first comes off the lake, they're big, perhaps best imitated with a Size 12.

    With each successive hatch cycle, the insects drop down a size so that the fall hatches are darn small: size 18 or even size 20. The browns still feed on these small fall mayflies. The dry flies require a floating line.

    Nymphs are best fished on a long leader and intermediate line. Jim Teeny, inventor of the Teeny Nymph, developed that famous pattern on East Lake. Olive and brown are good colors to try.

    Woolly Buggers catch fish everywhere. Here they catch rainbows, but are especially effective on the browns. All black Buggers work well, but a better pattern is olive hackle with a touch of red Krystal Flash counter-wrapped over a peacock herl body.

    Fish it slowly over the weedbeds on a sink-tip or full-sinking line. Streamers in the same color patterns as the hard-plastic plugs and fished the same way will produce a fair share of monster browns.

    Lightly weighted flies on floating lines or unweighted flies on intermediate lines, coupled with long leaders and fished from pontoons or float tubes toward shore, are just the ticket.

    Anglers headed for East Lake have a number of options. The East Lake Resort has cabins, moorage capable of handling craft 20 feet long, food, groceries, fishing gear and plenty of good advice on where to find the best fishing at the moment.

    There are concrete boat launches and campgrounds on the north and south shores. Wind can be an issue on mountain lakes, although pine trees protect most of the campsites.

    During south winds, the Hot Springs launch on the south shore provides more protection when you're launching or retrieving a boat.

    The launch is aptly named, as the springs just offshore add hot water to the nutrient-rich lake to produce wonderful weedbeds.

    Jones suggests that boaters launch here, move out about 100 yards, then fish north along the shore toward his resort.

    GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

  • Recommended Articles

    Recent Videos

    Game & Fish Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

    GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

    Digital Now Included!


    Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


    Buy Digital Single Issues

    Magazine App Logo

    Don't miss an issue.
    Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

    Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

    Other Magazines

    See All Other Magazines

    Special Interest Magazines

    See All Special Interest Magazines

    GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

    Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

    Phone Icon

    Get Digital Access.

    All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

    To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

    Get Digital Access

    Not a Subscriber?
    Subscribe Now

    Enjoying What You're Reading?

    Get a Full Year
    of Guns & Ammo
    & Digital Access.

    Offer only for new subscribers.

    Subscribe Now